The Bowmar Builders are an FLL team associated with Bowmar Elementary School. The purpose of this blog is to help other students interested in robotics to learn from what we have learned. As an FLL Robotics team we use the Lego EV3 robotics system and the Mindstorms graphical programming language.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Think Win-Win

By Mateo B.

"Think Win-Win" is one of our team's core values. It means that we can create solutions where everyone wins, rather than one person or team winning and one loosing. Thinking win-win takes a different perspective and mind set. For example, in sports it often seems like one team wins and one looses. Thinking win-win would mean to realize that the real goal is to have fun and do your best. If you do your best and have good sportsmanship by congratulating the other team members when they do their best, you all have fun and you both win.

In our FLL team used think win-win in our project. We created recycling solutions that helped our school compete in the national recycle bowl and helped local businesses recycle their materials. We also partnered with the other FLL team in our recycling efforts.

Time Management

"Wise time management is really the wise management of ourselves."
-Spencer W. Kimball

Effective teams have a process for managing their time. There are many tasks to do, many things to learn, and at the end of it all the team members are still just kids. Having a process for managing time during the meetings is a wise practice. Ideally, the team leaders (kids) will decide what are the key points to cover in a planning meeting. This will change throughout the season.

The process of time management has a few key points:
1) there is a youth leader or leadership team that (helps) set the direction for the team.
2) the leadership team regularly meets to plan what needs to happen
3) meeting agendas are developed and used
4) a team member is assigned to manage the time and activities during the meeting (which doesn't need to be one of the leaders or even the same person for each meeting.)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Role of Vocal Tone in Communication

By Aaron Byrd

Vocal tone, or how we sound when we are talking, has a significant influence on how our message is received. This great TED talk by Laura Sicola discusses the role of vocal tone in our communication. This is one of the more difficult aspects of effective speaking to teach but also one of the more beneficial. Laura highlights a study that shows that 38% of effective communication depends on vocal tone. 55% of how the message is received depends on non-verbal. Only 7% is the actual words.

A great thought that Laura points out that applies to our FLL presentations is the balance between the time spent preparing the words and materials for the presentations and the time we spend on how we sound we we say them. Do we really spend 5x the time working on effective delivery as we do on developing the materials? Effective, professional-sounding teams do!

Friday, June 3, 2016


By Aaron Byrd

Having a plan for the season is the first component to having a successful year. The second component is actually accomplishing your plan.

Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator is a great TED talk that discusses why people procrastinate. Most people tend to procrastinate. This talk helps to explain why.

This website at discusses four common reasons we procrastinate and how we can move past procrastination. Common reasons for procrastination include:
  • Waiting for just the right time or just the right setting to do the task.
  • You are used to working under pressure but not so much when you are not under pressure.
  • Productive procrastination, where you work on what needs to be done but not on what is most important.
  • Second guessing decisions and waffling back and forth.
The website offers several suggestions to help encourage you to not procrastinate. The key is to figure out what motivates you, both intrinsically and extrinsically.

In an FLL team procrastination can come in to play individually, as sub-groups or committees, and as the whole team. As a coach it will help if you figure out what motivates the team, the sub-groups, and the individuals. Is it having fun and being social? Is it rewards and recognition? Is it the opportunity to accomplish new challenges? You can build motivational milestones into the season for the team. Fun and social? Plan team outings or parties that happen when the team finishes a task. Rewards and recognition? Have visual rewards, perhaps a chart of accomplishments or buttons for accomplishing different tasks. Again, the secret is to find out what motivates your team mebers and use that to help motivate the team.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Project Management Skills, Part 1

By Aaron Byrd

Project management is an important concept to learn. In order to successfully manage their time, the team needs to know how to manage the project.  The team needs goals and milestone, and a plan to get there. While coaches certainly can and should help the team manage their time and timeline, exceptional teams are able to manage their time wisely by themselves.

Project Management

Project management skills are critical to the success of a team. The members of the team need to know and use project management skills. Many of the concepts are going to be over the heads of the team members but as a coach you will need to refer back to these concepts over the course of the year. This is a short-short overview of project management.

The video linked above breaks project management into 5 steps or phases:
1. Create the Project Plan - Create a project charter and use an outline or a template if available.
2. Breakdown deliverables - what are the primary goals your team wants to accomplish.
3. Determine dependencies, critical paths, issues, risks, and resources
4. Create a timeline - when do the deliverables need to be accomplished?
5. Assign resources - figure out how to give people tasks and the means to accomplish them.

Project Plan
The project plan consists of
1. Name of the team and its mission or purpose.
2. The core values of the team
3. How the team will treat each other and interact with each other.
4. The goals (i.e. deliverables) of the team.
5. Dependencies for each of the goals.
6. Risks for each of the goals.
7. Timeline for tasks to accomplish the goals.
8. Resources needed to accomplish tasks.
9. Assigned resources to the tasks

1. Name the team and create the mission statement.
Come up with something fun for a name! Then, figure out why you are doing whatever it is you think you'll do.

As a world-class FLL robotics team, the three-fold mission of the Bowmar Builders is to develop interest and competency in STEM fields, including technical communication, for the team members, promote interest in and desire to study STEM fields for the students at Bowmar Elementary School and in our community, and to promote, mentor, and assist other FLL teams.

2. The core values of the team
The central values of the team members are the glue that hold them together. They are also a key part of the competition. Examples include Discovery, Learning, Integration, Synergy, Think Win-Win, Coopertition, Mentoring, etc.

FLL as a whole has a set of Core Values. Your team can adopt any and all of these and add others as well.

3. Team Interactions
The interactions section is both physical interactions (where and when the team will meet) and social interactions. How will the team members show respect to each other? How will they handle disagreements? How does Gracious Professionalism  and Coopertition come in to play? How will you honor the spirit of friendly competition? How will you learn together? How will you have fun?

4. Team Goals
What does the team want to accomplish? What is it you really want to do?

For example:
Goal #1: Develop competency in technical communication skills in the team members.
Goal #2: Develop team leadership skills and knowledge in the team members.
Goal #3: Successfully research and develop a world-class project.
Goal #4: Successfully develop a world-class robot, including programming and design.
Goal #5: Promote robotics and STEM activities at Bowmar Elementary and in our community.
Goal #6: Provide feedback, mentoring, and assistance to other FLL teams.
Goal #7: Have fun!

5. Develop dependencies. These include tasks and resources needed.

In order to achieve goal #1, develop competency in technical communication skills in the team members, we as a team will

1. Research and practice professional speaking skills
2. Research and practice professional presentation skills
3. Research and practice professional writing skills

This will include at-home research with team discussion of skills. We will incorporate the skills we learn into the development and execution of our presentations for Project, Core Values, and Robot Design. We will have two off-site meetings where we will practice public speaking skills. We will each write several blog entries on technical subjects related to FLL, our robot, our programs, our project, and our core values.

The resources needed to accomplish these tasks are:
1. An off-site meeting place
2. Access to on-line resources about professional speaking, presentation, and writing skills
3. A website where we can write and publish our articles
4. Access to internet-connected computers

Parts 6-9 to come!

TED Talks on Communication

Effective Communication

By Aaron Byrd

Effective communication is at the heart of the project, robot design, and core values judging. The judges need to see and feel your team's passion and enthusiasm for their project, their robot, and their team. They need to know and understand why you chose the project and how your project changed your team, your school, and your community.

Here are a few TED talks that talk about public speaking and go over speaking skills. It will be helpful to have the students watch these videos, have a discussion on them, and pull out one or two key details that your team and team members want to apply.

TED's Secret to Great Public Speaking
How ideas and communicating ideas can change the world.

10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation
10 useful rules for improving people's interest in your topics and how you communicate with them.

The Secret Structure of Great Talks
Structure for creating contrast, interest, and motivation in a talk.

How to Speak so that People Want to Listen
Discusses seven deadly sins of speaking, four cornerstones for powerful speaking, and tools in the speaking toolbox. Includes vocal exercises.